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Medaille zur Erinnerung an die Aufstände in Deutsch-Südwest-Afrika

Commemoration Medal of the Uprisings in the German South-West Africa

That unofficial medal, or rather token was issued in commemoration of the successful suppression of the series of revolts of the German South-West Africa (Deutsch-Südwestafrika) natives by the German Protection troops, or Schutztruppen. Native population of that German protectorate that existed in 1883-1915 on the territory of the modern-day Namibia was composed mainly of the Herero, Nama (Namaqua, a.k.a. Hottentots), Damara and Ovambo tribes.   Interesting to know that the second Imperial commissar of the protectorate who held that post from August 1885 until August 1890 was German lawyer and diplomat Ernst Heinrich Göring (31.10.1838-07.12.1913), father of the Reichsmarschall to be Hermann Göring. The governor never succeeded in signing a peace treaty with Samuel Maharero (1854 or 1856-14.03.1923), supreme chief of the Herero tribe. Moreover, Ernst Heinrich Göring was forced to flee and seek refuge from hostile aboriginals at the British territory. It should be mentioned in all fairness that similar mission was previously failed by the famous German explorer of the Black Continent Gustav Nachtigal (23.02.1834-20.04.1885) who represented the “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck. With the lapse of time isolated encounters developed into large-scale mutiny that broke out on January 12, 1904 and was led by Samuel Maharero, once German ally who enjoyed confidence of the colonial authorities. Mobs of the Herero rose in revolt, attacked German farmers, killed 119 men, four women and one baby, destroyed railroad tracks and telegraph lines, captured several farms, occupied several settlements and besieged Windhoek, Otavi, Omaruru and Okahandja.      

Roots of the bloody conflict were identified by the local German newspaper “Deutsch-Südwestafrikanische Zeitung” that published an article in 1904: “The rebellion was not aimed at traders, but at Germans as such, irrespective of their attitude towards the Herero, whether good or bad. All the Germans were to be ousted from the country, only several close friends were issued with safe conduct. It grieves them (i.e. Hereros) enormously that their lands are gradually passed into the hands of Europeans. Hence is their hate towards farmers who work the land regarded by Hereros as their”.

Even founder of the Soviet Russia, Vladimir Lenin decided not to draw a veil over the Herero mutiny,  little-known and nearly forgotten today. His comments on the warfare in the German South-West Africa made after acquaintance with printed sources in the Zurich cantonal library could be found in his “Notebooks on Imperialism” (Complete Works, 5th Edition, Vol.28).

On May 17, 1904 the German governor Theodor Gotthilf von Leutwein (09.05.1849-13.04.1921) was removed from command of the Schutztruppen following several failures and replaced with Lieutenant General Adrian Dietrich Lothar von Trotha (03.07.1848-31.03.1920), veteran of the Austro-Prussian and Franco-Prussian Wars as well as participant of the Boxer Rebellion suppression. Immense military experience of Lothar von Trotha soon force insurgents to retreat. Their forces were destroyed during the decisive Battle of Waterberg (August 11-12, 1904). Hauptmann Bayer, an eyewitness of those events, estimated German strength at 1,500 servicemen, while Herero mutineers numbered 3-5 thousand men.   

According to the information stated in a book “Struggle of the German Protection Troops in the South-West Africa ” (Die Kämpfe der deutschen Schutztruppen in Südwestafrika) published in Berlin in 1906, irretrievable German losses during the Battle of Waterberg came to 462 men: killed in action – 129, died from accidents – 6, succumbed to injuries – 307, missed in action – 20. Totally 168 servicemen were wounded in combat and 11 due to accidents.

Following the defeat, some 1,000 surviving Hereros led by Samuel Maharero managed to flee to the British Bechuanaland (modern-day Botswana) through the Kalahari Desert. Later on Generalleutnant Lothar von Trotha took the field and forced remaining Hereros to escape from their lands. As a rule, his famous or rather infamous “Appeal to the Herero People” (Aufruf an das Volk der Herero) sometimes referred to as an “extermination order” is published partially. We take the liberty of posting that document here in full, including its second part, usually skipped as not conforming to the generally accepted image of von Trotha as a brazen-faced butcher of innocent natives.

“Appeal to the Herero People

Headquarters of Protection Troops (Schutztruppen).

Duplicate to the Headquarters 17290 Osombo-Windembe, October 02, 1904.

No.3737

I, the chief general of the German soldiers, send this letter to the people of Herero. The Hereros are no longer the German subjects. They have killed and stolen, cut off ears, noses and other parts of the body of wounded soldiers, and now they are too coward to fight any longer. I announce to the people that whoever brings to one of my camps captured captain (i.e. chief) shall receive 1,000 marks, and 5,000 marks for Samuel Maharero. The Herero nation must leave the country. If it fails to do so, I will force it with the long tubes (i.e. cannons). Any Herero found inside the German frontier, with or without a gun, with or without cattle, will be executed; I will keep neither women nor children, let them either return to their tribes or be shot. Such are my words to the Herero people.

The chief general of the mighty German Emperor.

This appeal is to be brought to the notice of the troops at roll-call, with an addition that the unit that captures a chief will also receive the appropriate reward, and that the shooting at women and children is to be understood as shooting above their heads, so as to force them to run. I assume absolutely that this appeal will result in taking no more male prisoners, but will not degenerate into atrocities against women and children. They already leave the land after a couple of shots are fired above their heads. The troops will remain conscious of the good reputation of the German soldiers.

Commander

Original signed by von Trotha, Generalleutnant”.

That was the first part of the above-mentioned document, the so-called “Appeal to the Herero People” that was widely used to develop a bloodthirsty image of Generalleutnant Lothar von Trotha who is actually regarded as an architect of the large-scale genocide. Thus, UN Report on Genocide presented by the British barrister and human rights champion Benjamin Charles George Whitaker (15.09.1934-08.06.2014) in 1985 particularly stated: “The Nazi aberration has unfortunately not been the only case of genocide in the XXth  century. Among other examples which can be cited as qualifying are the German massacre of Hereros in 1904. (…) The Hereros were reduced from 80,000 to some 15,000 starving refugees”. Though reliability of those figures could neither be confirmed nor denied, German colonial administration estimated total population of the Herero prior to rebellion around 35-45 thousand natives. Sensational information on the tremendous Herero casualties initially published by the British in the “Blue Book” in August 1918 were subsequently recognized as fabrication of the wartime propaganda machine. German casualties during suppression of the Herero mutiny came to 1,282 men, most of whom succumbed to typhus and cholera.

Soon after the rebellion of Herero was put down German colonial authorities faced armed insurrection of Namaqua tribe led by Hendrik Witbooi (ca.1830-29.10.1905). Like Samuel Maharero, once he was a German ally who rendered military support, provided land and cattle having signed a treaty with Germans on September 15, 1894. Moreover, it was Hendrik Witbooi’s tribe that served alongside the German colonial army and fought against the Herero for three years, from 1901 until 1904. Nevertheless, on October 03, 1904 Hendrik Witbooi together with Jakobus Morenga (1875-19.09.1907) led anti-German revolt that was suppressed only in 1907. Diehard supporters of the late Witbooi were forced to flee to the Cape Colony while rest of his partisans laid down their arms and returned to their pre-war business.

It’s worth mentioning here that a certain Oberleutnant Franz Xaver Epp was among German officers who took an active part in suppression of Herero and Namaqua rebellion. Third Reich “official hero” to be, honorary Infantry General (Charakterisiert General der Infanterie) and head of the Imperial Colonial Union (Bundesführer des Reichskolonialbundes) served with the German South-West Africa Protection Troops (Schutztruppen) from February 02, 1904 until December 14, 1906. He was promoted to Hauptmann on July 11, 1904 and appointed 11th company commander of the 1.Feldregiment der Schutztruppe.

  1. total amount of German casualties, both military personnel and civilians, who perished in the German South-West Africa during the Herero and Hottentot uprisings between 1903 and 1907 as well as during the Kalahari Expedition of 1908, is carved in a plaque mounted on a Reiterdenkmal (a.k.a. Südwester Reiter), a statue in Namibia’s Windhoek inaugurated on January 27, 1912 in conjuniction with the 53rd birthday of Wilhelm II. “Killed in action, missed in action, died from accidents, succumbed to injuries and sickness: of the Schutztruppen – 100 officers, 254 NCOs, 1180 soldiers; of the Navy – 7 officers, 13 NCOs, 72 sailors. Killed during uprising: 119 men, 4 women, 1 child”.

The story ends on August 14, 2004 when the German Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul (born 21.11.1942) offered Germany’s first formal apology for tragic events in the German South-West Africa. “We Germans accept our historic and moral responsibility and the guilt incurred by Germans at that time. The atrocities committed at that time would have been termed genocide. Germany has learnt the bitter lessons of the past”, she said during a commemorative ceremony held in Namibia’s Okakarara attended by some 100,000 participants. However, German authorities have ruled out possibility of transferring $4 billion compensation for Herero victims’ descendants claiming that international regulations protecting rights of civilians were not in existence at the time of the conflict. A lawsuit against the German government and Deutsche Bank was filed in the US district court in Washington DC in 2001. Nevertheless, today’s Germany still pays for century-old operations of Schutztruppen in the German South-West Africa: its economic aid for Namibia currently amounts to $14 million a year.

Having completed that necessary historical digression let’s return to the main subject of an article.

An obverse shows bust of Wilhelm II facing right in parade uniform of the cuirassier Regiment der Gardes du Corps wearing Großkreuz des Roten Adlerordens and Collane des Schwarzen Adlerordens. Two inscriptions in capital letters are situated on each side of the portrait: “Wilhelm II” and “German Emperor” (“Deutscher Kaiser”).

A reverse has an inscription in seven lines executed in capital letters of different size: “In Commemoration of the Uprisings in the German South-West Africa” (“Zur Erinnerung an die Aufstände in Deutsch-Südwest-Afrika”). Decorative drawing consisting of two short horizontal lines with a central dot is situated at the bottom of a legend. The whole composition is embroidered with a wide wreath made of laurel (on the left) and oak (on the right) leaves tied with ribbon tie at the bottom.

Both obverse and reverse have raised edges as well as rims made of small but distinct dots.

Commemorative token measuring 28,5 mm in diameter and weighing 14,9 g was manufactured of silvered bronze and was worn on a tricolor silk ribbon of three vertical stripes, black, white and red, typical to patriotic medallions of that time.

Being an unofficial badge, Medaille zur Erinnerung an die Aufstände in Deutsch-Südwest-Afrika

had to be purchased by Schutztruppen veterans from their own expenses and was prohibited to be worn on military uniform. 

Commemoration Medal of Uprisings in German South West Africa 01